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Between Mértola and the Alentejo communities to learn more about the social function of museums

Researcher Giusy Pappalardo, from the University of Catania (Italy), was in Portugal to carry out a Sociomuseological Residency at the Museology Department of the Universidade Lusófona. Between the 11th and 19th of July, she was in Mértola where she visited the centers of the Mértola Museum and contacted various stakeholders in the Mértola Vila Museum project.

Here we leave you her testimony:

“Between Mértola and the Alentejo communities to learn more about the social function of museums. I arrived in Alentejo from Lisbon on a hot Monday afternoon in early July 2022, one of the hottest weeks of the year. Despite the tiredness of the trip, Guilhermina’s welcome was a first note of joy and a festive introduction to my days in Mértola, along with the sounds of nature that can still be heard along the Guadiana in Além Rio, where the noise of cars rarely disturbs the quiet.
I am an Italian researcher at the University of Catania, Sicily, and I work in the area of ​​territorial planning with an action research approach, from a community perspective. I am currently developing my research in sociomuseology, and for that reason I spent 3 months of residency at Universidade Lusófona de Lisboa, recommended by a researcher and friend, Manuelina Duarte. Manuelina herself had already given me the opportunity to meet Cláudio Torres, Susana Gómez and Lígia Rafael de Mértola, during a cycle of international webinars that we organized in the most difficult months of the covid-19 pandemic, in 2021, in which we talked about the experiences most avant-garde in the world of insurgent museologies.
Once again Manuelina, while I was organizing my trip to Portugal for 2022, suggested that I spend a week in Mértola: “staying at least a week there is important”. And, in fact, my week in Mértola – and among the shadowless streets of Alentejo – was really the minimum time to start loving. Understanding and relating to this land.
I arrived here with Floriane, a student of Prof. Manuelina in museology at the University of Liége, who will do his internship in Mértola. Together we share the pain of the heat, the wonder of the places, the questions still open and the desire to contribute to a process of strengthening the local community that has been going on for over 40 years.
The Alentejo cante, which Guilhermina continues to practice with pride and splendor along with others, immediately gave me important interpretations. “People who sing will not die”, we read at Casa do Alentejo in Lisbon, recalling the words of Michel Giacometti. It is about Cante, and also about the forms of expression and narration, there is the museology itself, understood as a direct testimony of the cultures that lived and lived in the places.
The process of musealization of archeology in Mértola communicated this important message to me, which is above all a political message. This became much clearer to me listening to the words of Cláudio Torres, with whom I had the honor of spending time at his house, surrounded by his affections. Cláudio and Nádia (his daughter) have long talked about the meaning of bringing to light, talking, giving space to the Islamic culture, often forgotten in the history books.
And the many visits with Lígia to the in situ museums made the concept even clearer to me. “It is important to leave the finds where they are”, always specifies Lígia. And in my mind, the most current debates in museology come to mind in which we discuss the importance of stopping the tendency to centralize the accumulation of objects, and of impoverishing the territories already explored by the greed of the centers of power.
The passion of experts and volunteers in the Archaeological field – willing to continue digging aimlessly under the very hot sun of this summer of fires and climate change –
confirmed to me the force of the message behind these excavations. Susana, Virgílio, others and others dedicated their lives to this place. The action of defending and narrating the heritage of Mértola, which is both natural and cultural heritage, gave new life to a village in the Portuguese interior that, otherwise, like many other places around it, would have almost disappeared from the maps.
I hope to publish soon a report that can give a more structured way of reflecting on the listening and analysis process carried out in a week (in the end, very little) in this hot summer. I thank the City Council for their support in this work.
I hope to return to Mértola soon, but I certainly bring to Sicily – a land very similar to the Alentejo – a very clear lesson about the social function of museums: the ability to highlight, preserve and renew narratives that would otherwise be silenced.
I take with me the printed images of the work of Maria Helena and the other women at the Weaving Workshop, Orlando’s passion for preserving memory in one of the most peripheral museum centers in Mértola (Alcaria do Javazes), the care with which the museum team and other places welcomed us, guided and inspired us.”

Giusy Pappalardo
July 2022


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